Limitless Living

Five Elements

The Short Version:
The Five Elements are representatives – archetypes – of a basic Chinese scientific theory that Chinese Medicine was built on. The elements represent the stages in the process of life, and are built around the cycle of a year. They are: Water= Winter, Wood=Spring, Fire=Summer, Earth=Harvest, Metal=Fall

The Full Version:

I discovered the power of the Five Elements (I had heard of them before but didn’t “get” them) through Chinese Face Reading, and as much as I love Face Reading (which is a lot) I love the Five Elements even more.

There are always times where Tarot, Numerology or mythology just aren’t applicable, but I have yet to find a person, time, or situation that the Elements don’t speak to.

Oldest Science Ever

The Five Elements are not a “woo woo” or even esoteric concept; they are, in fact, the culminated understanding of the oldest, continuous, still in application today, scientific field.

They were originally developed as a result of observing nature and, much like the Western Four Elements, were born through the observation of a year.

As they expanded and began classifying their observations of nature (i.e. did science) they discovered that everything they studied could be broken down into the same stages. These studies began to solidify into a solid theory about 4000 years ago. (For perspective, around the same time Britain was entering the bronze age, Babylon was in power, and several alphabets – Greek, Egyptian – were forming in the West.)

The Chinese were some of the first proponents of the Macrocosm/Microcosm concept (the idea that what happens on a big level happens the same way on a small level) so they theorized that what was true of seasons and plant growth would also be true of project development and the human body.

(Note: There are a few key differences between Western and Eastern thought and philosophy that really enrich this study, but for the sake of efficiency I’m trying to keep it simple here. If you love this and want to go deeper do ask me about the Five Element Workshops!)

Soon things like Medicine (what we call “Traditional Chinese Medicine”), Acupuncture, the Meridian System, Feng Shui, and Chinese Face Reading (among other things) were developed out of the Five Element observations (and the I Ching – a subject for another day) – all of which are highly effective and still in use today.

The Circle of Life

The Five Element system is a process with each element marking a stage along that process. In exactly the same way (and probably because it does) that winter becomes spring becomes summer becomes autumn becomes winter again each element leads into, and becomes, the next moving full circle.

  • Why are there five elements when there are only four Western elements (and only four seasons)?

The Five Elements in Relationship

This circle allows you to not only examine what a full process looks like – true Wholeness – but to also discover the relationships that might develop between the individual elements (the Chinese are very family/relationship centric and it comes across even in their science).

The element that becomes the next element is called the “Mother” (for example, if you look on the above graphic you’ll see that Water is the mother of Wood because it comes before it on the circle) and is understood to “feed”, support and enrich it’s child. Therefore Wood (in a person, body, project, etc…) is always nurtured by Water (or Watery things). While the child expands, shifts, and changes (in some ways is the exact opposite of) the mother and can therefore be a bit of a challenge (as any kid is!).

The story that goes with this (Creation) cycle is that a seed that is Watered grows into a tree (Wood), which is cut down to build a Fire whose ashes return to the ground to enrich the Earth, out of which we mine ore/Metal – which can be melted to liquid (the literal translation of the Chinese word “water”) or condenses Water on it. And the cycle begins again.

There is another cycle called the “control” cycle – our challenging and restraining relationship – and its story is equally logical. (This cycle is illustrated above by the pentacle in the center of the circle.) Water puts out Fire. Fire melts Metal. Metal (when formed into a blade) cuts at Wood. Wood (think roots) breaks up Earth. Earth places boundaries around Water.

These relationship dynamics have always been essential to the Chinese healing systems (whether you are healing a body, heart, relationship, or project it always applies). The idea is that perfect health is a result of perfect flow within this circle. A problem is caused by blockage, stagnation, flooding, or drought (for lack of a better term, that one works) at any stage in the circle. One of the above relationships can be used to correct and re-balance any of these issues by enabling energy to freely move through the process again.

The Five Elements

Now that you know the foundational stuff I’ll introduce you to each of the Elements in depth. You’ll easily recognize three of the Elements (Fire, Water, Earth) while Wood and Metal are new to us (Metal is closest to Air in the Western system – though to be honest there’s really very little comparing the two as the division into five (rather than four) makes them not integrate well).

Water Traits


This is the element of Winter: the darkest and coldest part of the year. The Water stage of any process is germination and gestation, where energy or potential in invested in a thing (seed, baby), idea or project.
This is the realm of creativity; the time to dream dreams. It’s a time of stillness, of rest, and deep relaxation. It can sometimes feel like death (things move so slowly) and sometimes is death (death and birth are intimately linked). As the beginning (potential) and the end (death) this is when we are supposed to rejuvenate and be renewed before going back out into the world.
Wood Traits


This is Spring when all that stored (or restored) energy and potential bursts into our world. The seed sprouts, leaves grow back and the baby is born. Wood manifests, it acts on the creative ideas and potential just reaped; it is vital and enthusiastic – it wants to go out there and experience life.
Our culture is pretty familiar/comfortable with this energy (even if not generally in a balanced way), now is the time for making the action plan, for casting your vision, and for making a change (for the better). This is when new possibilities blossom into life.
Fire Traits


This is the warm exuberance of summer and the blazing heat of the peak of the day. The flower opens, the child runs laughing down the beach, orgasm breaks over you. This is the realm of the heart, of joy, passion and play. This energy laughs and lives life to the fullest, it embraces all the world has to offer and opens to intimacy.
Here we throw all our energy into the project, we go full force – all the energy is burned up.
Earth Traits


Earth is considered to be the buffer between each element – the energy of transition – and it’s time in the year was originally evenly split between each of the four seasons (two weeks between winter and spring, between spring and summer, etc…). Later, to make things easier they assigned Earth it’s own place on the circle which is technically called Late Summer/Early Fall, but coincides with Harvest (or back to school).
It is fruit ripening, finding your stride in the middle of your life, it supports and holds, and creates connection. It is the mother who makes sure her children are well-fed and happy. It is lying on the warm ground after a hard day of work and eating an apple fresh off the tree.
Earth supports and it the foundation for the other energies, but this is where things begin to slow down, settle in, and even stagnate. It’s easy to get stuck in Earth.
Now is the time to nourish, to give generously, and to remember to receive.
Metal Traits


This is autumn and old age. The energy has been used up in the transformation of Fire and now things are paring down, refining. Here we only keep what really matters, we seek out the pure and purposeful, and put the finishing touches into place. Here life prepares to leave the manifest world – here we are getting ready to die/end – and there is a greater connection to what lies beyond and a heightened awareness (or sensitivity to) our senses.
Grief moves in as the leaves fall and we finish up with the project we’ve poured so much of ourselves into. The work here is to fill in the final details, to let things go and to be grateful for the beautiful things in our lives.

From Theory to Application

I use these archetypal elements most often when talking about your Nature; by identifying which elements are strongest in your nature – or which ones are being blocked in the current situation – I can use the above information and relationship cycles to get insight into you. There are literally innumerable ways the elements can be applied to your life, and leveraged to help you, this is just the way that I use it most often.

One last note (to make things more confusing), the elements are connected to the Yin/Yang cycle (the True circle of life – again, ask about my workshops and classes) and so when talking about personalities some elements get split again becoming Yin Wood or Yang Wood (for example). But is all you know is the above you are good to go – because either way you are still Woody!